Chapter One - I Become An Astrologer
In the spring of 1912 I was a young art student in Hamburg, uncertain of my future and perplexed by disagreements with my teachers. I greeted with delight my uncle's invitation to accompany him on his annual trip southern Europe, without anticipating that this journey would change my life. We were to pass through the Alps to Lucerne, Geneva, Interlaken, Montreux, and then-to Italy.
Our trip proceeded uneventfully until, on the train near Basel, I ran into a friend of my uncle's, a priest named Monsignor von Berlichingen, who showed a keen interest in my artistic education and urged me to Visit the Palazzo di Brera and the library in Milan, where, he explained, I could study the original drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. I took his advice, for I felt even then an enormous admiration for Leonardo. I was already aware that to study his work is to attend an academy not just of the fine arts but also of the mathematical and technical disciplines, in fact, of every aspect of the science of his time. I subsequently paid many visits to the Palazzo di Brera, yet though I saw the art academy, the picture gallery, and the entire library of unique ancient manuscripts, what struck me most of all was the astrology section. Of course there were other treasures there, but the collection of astrological books, far vaster than I had thought possible, was an untapped shrine which later scholars seemed to have passed over.
Although I had always had an interest in astrology, I had only, till then, had glimpses of answers to my many questions about it and about other peripheral spheres of human knowledge. Now, in the Palazzo di Brera, I was confronted by the astrological writings of the greatest medieval and ancient scientists.
Astrology has not always been held in ill repute. In ancient times it was not even regarded as an occult science; in fact, it provided the basis for the development of astronomy. Because of their joint origin it is difficult to distinguish between these two disciplines; from antiquity right up to the beginning of the modern era, we find important astronomers who are also astrologers: Ptolemy, Pierre d'Ailly, Johannes Kepler, and Morin de Villefranche. My research was not easy, for a study of astrology presupposes a working knowledge of more disciplines than one man can ever really master, among them classical languages, German and Oriental philology, history, art, religion, astronomy, and graphology.
During the course of my studies I found ancient books and manuscripts containing maps of the planets and constellations marked with the decanates-that is, the ten-degree subdivisions of the zodiac. I also found the traditional conception of the constellations well illustrated on both small panels and large paintings. My mind was filled with so many questions. Was it just superstition that had led man to regard the star-studded heaven as a human counselor for hundreds and even thousands of years? After all, man was able to calculate the seasons and the tides from the position of the stars with great accuracy, and there are cosmic events on which every living being depends for its existence. Is it not reasonable to assume, therefore, that if these elemental events are determined by the position of the stars, other incidents which also contribute to man's fate are determined in the same way? Roger Bacon, the great thirteenth-century Franciscan theologian and natural philosopher, censured medieval doctors for their ignorance of astrological matters: "Et ideo negligunt meliorem partem medicinae" ("And they neglect the better part of medicine"). Were such scholars deluded fools? This question gave me no peace, and so I decided to work far more intensively at my astrological studies.
I had an opportunity for further research when I spent several weeks in Munich on my way back from Italy. Among the things I wanted to see there was the horoscope which Kepler had cast for Wallenstein, the brilliant German general of the Thirty Years' War.
The Munich Hof- und Staatsbibliothek, as it then was, had several complete copies of Kepler's Prognosticum. This was just idle curiosity on my part, for at that time I understood precious little about horoscopes. I was all the more surprised, therefore, when a comparison with the historical events of Wallenstein's life showed Kepler's horoscope to be essentially correct. This discovery led me to begin calculating horoscopes for myself, and soon afterward I became a member of the Kepler Club in Hamburg, where I met a number of important people. I became friendly with one of the pioneers of the modern German astrological movement, Albert Kniepf. He shed greater light on the Wallenstein horoscope, for he had recalculated and corrected Kepler's work. Kniepf also drew my attention to a study by Dr. Ernst Brausewetter on Wallenstein and astrology. Wallenstein himself took an active interest in astrology, which may well have been prompted by practical considerations, for in the seventeenth century general astrological information was a substitute for military intelligence. It could take days or even weeks for a report to reach him, whereas regular astronomical observations at least enabled him to draw general conclusions for the day-to day conduct of affairs. In his study Brausewetter states that, as far as Wallenstein's personal fate was concerned, the wisdom of the astrologers, including Kepler, had been of no avail. This view is still widely held. It might therefore be profitable to deal with this question in greater detail.
Kepler cast Wallenstein's horoscope on two occasions, in 1608 and 1625, and was particularly successful in his general interpretation of the natal chart. Kepler concluded, among other things, that this nativity was very similar to the nativities of the late Chancellor of Poland and Queen Elizabeth of England, which also revealed many planets on the celestial horizon, rising on the ascendant or setting close to the descendant. "Consequently," he said, "there can be no doubt but that the man born at that time [Wallenstein] will achieve high dignities, riches, and a splendid marriage and that as a captain and revolutionary leader he will draw large numbers of soldiers to his person." It must be remembered that when Kepler cast this horoscope in 1608, he was dealing with an unknown nobleman who was barely twenty-five years of age. It was for such a man that he predicted a great career in the service of the state. He also spoke of the "many, great, harmful, public and secret enemies, over whom he will usually triumph." These are remarkable forecasts, which were complemented by sound conjectures as to the conditions and incidents of Wallenstein's future life.
The first natal chart that Kepler calculated for Wallenstein cannot really be regarded as correct if we insist on a precise knowledge of the "directions" (especially the primary directions). Wallenstein had given Kepler a wrong latitude reading for his place of birth, namely 51°N. This would have been approximately right for Dresden, whereas Wallenstein was born on the estate of Hermanitz near Arnau in Bohemia, which has a latitude of 49°56' N. Despite the inaccuracy of his initial values in 1608, Kepler nonetheless arrived at a generally correct interpretation, which is a pretty rare feat and says much for his ability in this sphere.
In 1624 Wallenstein had the first nativity corrected. He wrote to Count Taxis: "... because some things were set down too early, others too late . . . and because various mathematicians have agreed … that I am to live outside the fatherland and also die there, and most of them say that I am to die of apoplexy, I was curious to hear what he [Kepler] had to say about it." In 1625 Kepler cast a new horoscope for Wallenstein based on the corrected birth position. In it he listed the constellations which were ominous for Wallenstein and predicted that "the cruel and terrible disorders in the state" would be at their height in March, 1634. Wallenstein was murdered on February 25, 1634. Kepler was of course too tactful to mention the general's death in his forecast for 1634. Instead, he spoke of terrible disorders. But it is significant that the series of annual prognoses breaks off with this observation!
Wallenstein paid the penalty for dismissing Kepler, the best astrologer of his day, and replacing him with mediocrities. In his Astrologie (1816), Professor J. W. Pfaff, of the University of Erlangen, observed with some justification that Wallenstein did not appreciate the true significance of astrology but used it only to implement his political plans.
As a result of my encounter with Kepler's work in the year 1912, I was won over to astrology. For a long time I regarded this new departure as one of the sins of my youth. But it was one that I have never been able to renounce. I came from a middle-class family of Hanseatic businessmen whose flair for honest commerce was shaped by the harbor, the docks, and the international trade of the city of Hamburg. Flood tides and launchings, naval visits and boat trips on the Alster and the Elbe formed the background to my childhood world. In that world I often heard of strange adventures of the kind met with in all coastal and harbor towns where sailors' and travelers' tales turn people's imaginations toward the unusual and even the supernatural. Fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, and mediums have always formed part of the substratum of Hamburg society. Such things have absolutely nothing to do with astrology, of course. And yet it may well be that I was predisposed from early childhood to accept the existence of special laws that could influence and even control our lives.
But this occult aspect of my environment was never really obtrusive. The dominant characteristic, both of the city at large and of my own family, was the rather cool and always extremely conventional tone of the Hanseatic business class. It was not surprising, therefore, that my father decided that I too was to become a businessman. He arranged for me to enter a well-known firm of Hamburg importers and exporters after I had passed my final school examination. He doubtless meant well and would certainly have found a suitable firm for my commercial training, which would have enabled me to take over his own firm when the time came. But my father had not reckoned with my deep-rooted aversion to commerce. Instead of taking up my post as an unpaid trainee, I fled to an isolated country village, which was then a painters' colony, to take counsel with my old teacher Paul Lichtwark, who had encouraged me to follow an artistic career. In the end my perseverance won the day, and after months of argument my father suddenly gave in. He allowed me to attend the new Hanseatic College for Fine Arts and agreed to pay for my studies.
When, in 1913, I showed some of my drawings, watercolors, sculptures, and masks to the director of the Hamburg School of Art, he suggested that I join one of the special classes at the school. And so I found myself studying under Johannes Bossard, from whom I learned some really useful sculpture techniques. But I soon began to feel that I was learning nothing at these classes and gave them up, immersing myself instead in my own work.
The outbreak of the First World War took me completely unawares. Luckily my call-up was deferred on medical grounds, and so for a time I was able to continue my studies. Most of my fellow students volunteered in that mood of national enthusiasm, were quickly trained, went to the front, and fell at Langemarck or Ypres or in Russia. Gradually the studios were emptied.
Finally, I too was conscripted. Neither the petitions of influential friends nor the intervention of my professor, Johannes Bossard, could save me from the drill of barracks life. But early in 1917 I was wounded and subsequently contracted typhus. I was discharged from the army and directed to work in an optics factory.
In my leisure hours I was able to take up my studies again. This was made very much easier for me when I found a studio near the Alster, which provided me with the working atmosphere and the peace that I so desperately needed. Never had life seemed so cheerful, simple, and agreeable as in that sparsely furnished studio.
Nonetheless I longed for solitude, for seclusion far from modern civilization. Sometimes I even toyed with the idea of entering an order, hoping to find a monastic retreat for artists and scholars. Yet I continually asked myself whether a simple change of scene could cure my spiritual condition. My past seemed worthless, the future dreadful and terrifying in its uncertainty. In these, as in later crises, I was both strengthened and diverted by astrology. From the dominant constellations in my nativity I was able to understand why such crises were necessary and when they would pass. In fact, astrology taught me to understand life and to shape it to my ends.
But it was not until I met Heinrich Franck, a restaurant proprietor and former artist, that I became really deeply involved in astrology. His lean figure, his long, snow-white beard, and his shoulder-length, silver-gray hair struck me immediately when I saw him at an astrological gathering. At that time he was calculating ephemerides, or tables of planetary movements, and kindly offered to teach me this complex subject. He also owned an extensive library of old astrological and mystical books. With his help I learned to make valuable astronomical and astrological calculations and to cast horoscopes without reference to the English ephemerides, which were already known and used in Germany at that time. Each horoscope could be worked out mathematically without any help from tables of houses. Apart from his own library, Heinrich Franck also had a list of old astrological works owned by the Hamburg State Library and the Royal Library in Berlin, so that it was easy for me to obtain any books that I needed.
Meanwhile, the whole social climate threatened my precious artist's living. The war was ending, and inflation had begun to cast its first shadows over the economy. I could expect no real help from my father. I had chosen to be independent, and his firm was in financial trouble. Even some of the clients I managed to get refused to pay.
At this time my astrological studies were closely linked with my artistic work. When I was tired of modeling, painting, or drawing, my astrological studies helped revive my interest. But I had not yet realized that I could earn money with my astrological knowledge. And, of course, my abilities in this sphere were still very modest. For my first experiments in interpreting constellations I used my relatives and my intimate friends as guinea pigs. I was soon astonished to find that individual horoscopes corresponded remarkably to the character, talents, and circumstances of the persons concerned. I felt encouraged to calculate and analyze other horoscopes. I obtained details of the births of historical personalities whose lives had been well documented: Goethe, Kaiser, Wilhelm I, Prince Otto von Bismarck, the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and Michelangelo. I learned a great deal from these studies. But one can become an ardent historian and astrologer from analyzing the horoscopes of famous men without ever feeling a personal involvement.
What really is exciting is to cast the horoscope of a living person one knows well and to make specific predictions, based on the evidence of his nativity, that are later proved true. It is, of course, positively frightening when one predicts illness or death. My younger brother's horoscope forecast a dangerous wound and the loss of a limb. I explained this to him early in 1913. No one thought it possible. In 1915 my brother was wounded by shrapnel in the trenches in France and had several operations. He lost his right leg.
During the long hours and days of waiting which are such a marked feature of army life and which most soldiers spend playing cards or drinking, I had plenty of time and opportunity to test my astrological knowledge. This was just a pastime, but all the same, it helped establish my astrological practice. Many of my comrades at the front and in the military hospital, whose horoscopes I had cast either for fun or out of curiosity, wrote to me after the war to ask for further predictions. At the same time a very special clientele began to appear, one that is to be found in astrological consulting rooms after every war and every catastrophe: unhappy mothers who had lost their sons on the battlefields, mothers of airmen who had been shot down, mothers who wanted to know whether sons who had been reported missing were still alive, and wives hoping to be told whether or when their husbands would return from prisoner-of-war camps. There were also women who simply came to tell me their troubles.
I was still fairly young, and although I knew from my own horoscope that these confidences placed in me by complete strangers were simply a predictable part of my career, I was always seized with compassion for such people.
Their personal sufferings were made even worse by the general political situation. The Germans had lost the war, imperial pomp was a thing of the past, a politically immature people had been engulfed by the November revolution of 1918, inflation was making headway, well established businesses were crashing, and suicides were a daily event. In this period of tremendous economic and political uncertainty, hypnosis, mesmerism, clairvoyance, and every form of occultism flourished.* Such interests are promoted by catastrophic situations. In post-war Germany many hypnotists, clairvoyants and mind readers were suddenly able to fill huge concert halls. There was scarcely a single large music hall or cabaret that did not stage a telepathic act. Enormous placards and newspaper advertisements pompously proclaimed: "The Most Important Parapsychologist," "The Woman with a Thousand Eyes" (Madame Karoli at the Busch Circus), "The Great Enigma, an Outstanding Achievement in the sphere of Occult Science", "The Lady Who Tells You All," etc. Swindle or not, both public and press found it all fascinating. I was very soon revolted by this fairground occultism, and the more these things were discussed in public, the more I withdrew into the seclusion of my studio.
* It seems, incidentally, that sections of American society were seized by a similar craze both during and after the American Civil War.
Meanwhile, the months passed quickly. During the spring and summer of 1919 revolutionary disturbances continued to flare up from time to time. Sometimes battles between workers and riot police took place right outside my studio. I paid little attention to such matters and saw no one. But my attempt to withdraw from the world failed. I was soon to come into contact with the political forces of the day. And I was destined to have further dealings with those very clairvoyants whose modish activities had seemed to me so repugnant.
One evening I received a totally unexpected visit from my father. This was the first time he had ever come to my studio; since I had decided to try my luck as a free-lance artist, he had not bothered about me very much. He was accompanied by two young men, former playmates of mine whom I had not seen for many years. They seemed very distressed and behaved as if under great pressure. They wanted to consult me on an astrological matter. It was ironical that they had been brought to me by my father, who had always maintained that there was nothing in my practice.
They then told me their story. Their sister had been missing for eight days. A few articles of clothing belonging to her had been found on a popular bathing beach on the upper Elbe; this had led them to fear the worst. My father hoped that with the help of astrological calculations I could at least give them some indication as to what had happened. But it would have taken days to obtain the necessary facts to draw up a horoscope, and the two men would not wait. As it happened, I had an appointment that evening with a doctor who wanted to carry out some experiments with a new medium whom he had discovered. And so I suggested that my visitors should accompany me there and that we use their sister's disappearance as a test case. Shortly afterward we made our way through the turbulent streets of the city to the doctor, who agreed to my proposal. I advised the brothers about the difficulties which could arise at such a séance and stressed the fact that the medium might conceivably possess no clairvoyant faculty at all. But this did not seem to bother them, and even my father decided to take part in the séance. He argued that my astrological calculations could be used to confirm or correct the clairvoyant's statements.
The brothers were eager to believe in the medium, and they were not, at first, disappointed. Soon after the doctor put him in a trance, the medium, who could not possibly have had any foreknowledge, gave an accurate description of the girl's appearance and habits and correctly revealed that she had been bathing with a man on beach. The man was her fiancé. After hours of questioning the medium further revealed that the couple had stayed on the beach after the last boat, that the man had stabbed the girl to death, deposited her disfigured body on the bank, and, standing in the middle of the river, shot himself. We urged the medium to tell us the precise location of the corpses. He mumbled, "Lavenberg," a place which was highly improbable because of the tidal low of the Elbe. The brothers were so desperate for any facts that they believed the medium and notified the police. The ensuing two-day search was fruitless. My father and I, on the other hand, had no faith at all in the medium.
Meanwhile, I had time to cast the horoscope of the missing girl. She had been born at Hamburg on July 26, 1892, at 7 P.M. Her natal chart showed the moon in a highly disadvantageous position and in conjunction with the malefic planet Saturn. Both were in the eighth house, the house of death, indicating both the manner and the place of death. Further, they were near Mercury, which in this horoscope was ruler of the fifth house, the house of emotion and love. Neptune, another malefic planet, was very badly placed in the fifth house. The coincidental deaths of the girl and her fiancé could be seen from the presence of Mercury, the moon, and Saturn in the eighth house. Saturn rules the ascendant in this horoscope. When Saturn is in the eighth house, it indicates that a person will be the cause of his or her own death. If, in this horoscope, we look at the subdivision of the zodiac as postulated in Indian astrology, we find the moon, Saturn, and Mars in watery Navamsas (i.e., a one-ninth or forty-degree sector of the zodiac) and Dvadasãmsas (one twelfth or thirty-degree sector). And that means a watery grave - in this case suicide by drowning. I found no configuration which would have indicated the violent death suggested by the medium.
My interpretation proved to be essentially correct, even though it did not completely clear up the case. Three weeks later a fisherman found the corpses of the two missing persons a considerable distance downstream. The bodies revealed no injuries apart from a small scratch on the man's head which had been caused when the fisherman had pulled him ashore with a boathook. A farewell letter discovered shortly afterward furnished conclusive proof of a suicide pact. The engaged couple had been in great financial difficulties; the man had forged bills of exchange and embezzled considerable sums of money. After having exhausted their savings, they had decided to take their lives.
As a result of this and similar incidents, reports of my astrological prowess spread; people learned that I had begun to study Sanskrit so as to be able to use works of Indian astrology for my investigations. I myself have never tried to publicize my work either in advertisements or by giving lectures. Nonetheless, the number of people who visited me - not on account of my sculptures, but on account of my astrological interpretations - constantly grew, until a virtual professional practice developed in my studio.
In one of my early cases the central figure was a woman who appeared to have been mysteriously murdered. The cheaper newspapers had seized on the affair and blown it up into a sensational sex murder; this was, of course, particularly disagreeable to the dead woman's family. My astrological analysis indicated that it was not a case of murder, but of accidental death, although the detective inspector rejected my interpretation out of hand. In his view the murderer was a well-known doctor, who had tried to dispose of his victim's body in the most atrocious way. The only evidence for this assumption was the fact that the doctor had fled as soon as suspicion had fallen on him. I rechecked my calculations but was unable to draw any conclusion which would have enabled me to support the police theory. This case remained unsolved. Twenty-three years later it was shown that the death really had been accidental. For reasons which I never discovered, Reinhard Heydrich, the Gestapo chief, suddenly took up this old case, and by using methods of crime detection such as only the Gestapo possessed, he succeeded in solving it. The lawyer defending the alleged murderer let me have a look at the case files, although he had no authority to do so. He was deeply impressed that an astrological interpretation made more than twenty years before had given the right lead for the explanation of this unusual incident.
I did not take a fee for any of my investigations. Since I looked upon myself as a professional sculptor, I would have found it embarrassing and highly disagreeable to have accepted payment for my special astrological skills. And yet, because of those skills, my artistic work was constantly interrupted, as was my dream of remaining a recluse from the political forces of the age and the fashionable whims of society.